SC flays lack of in-house discipline


The Supreme Court

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday deplored the lack of "judicial discipline" among its own judges after its attention was drawn to a recent judgment by a three-judge bench that overruled the order of another three-judge bench.

Usually, only a bench larger than the one which delivered the judgment exercises the overturning power.

"The hoary principle of this great institution is you can't tinker with the system. If a judgment is wrong, there is a method of reference to a larger bench and this is the practice being followed over the years. If the Supreme Court is one, it should be made one and you need a conscious judicial discipline to do that. My painful concern is that this judicial discipline has not been followed. If it wants to correct an earlier judgment, it should be done by the larger bench to make it as the last word," Justice Kurian Joseph said.

On February 8, a three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, A.K. Goel and M.M. Shantanagouder had ruled that land acquisition by a government agency cannot be set aside if the plot owners do not accept compensation within five years of its deposit with the treasury.

The bench was, in effect, overruling an order in 2014 by another three-judge bench in another case that the land acquisition becomes invalid if the award is not accepted within five years.

On Wednesday, when another land acquisition dispute came up before the apex court, a three-judge bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur, Joseph and Deepak Gupta, expressed anguish over the February 8 judgment.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi had brought to the court's notice the February 8 order which, he said, will cause chaos as high courts across the country are now following the latest order. Courts are flooded with hundreds of cases relating to land acquisition.

The bench, headed by Justice Lokur, pointed out that if a three-member judge bench did not agree with the ruling of another three-judge bench, the matter should ideally have been referred to a five-judge constitution bench, instead of overruling it.#"We are only concerned with judicial discipline.... If the bench had disagreed with the view taken..., it should have referred the issue to a larger bench," the bench said.

"Can a three-judge bench overrule the judgment of another three judges? If they differ the correctness of an earlier decision, they can only refer the matter to the Chief Justice of India for a decision by a larger bench," Justice Joseph said.

The court said it will examine the matter on March 7 for referring the issue to the Chief Justice. Until then, the top court said, all high courts should refrain from passing the final decision on petitions seeking higher compensation for land acquisition. The Supreme Court benches hearing similar cases have been asked to defer a decision till the next hearing.


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